When Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz took the stage for the 25th annual Park City Community Leadership Lecture, more than 400 Parkites were packed in the Public Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium to hear what he would say. As the chief of publicly traded ski industry behemoth valued at more than $8 billion, Katz seemed an obvious choice to deliver some innocuous remarks about corporate leadership, but most in attendance on Monday evening were substantively interested in the public question and answer session that followed.
Vail Resorts’ takeover of Park City hasn’t been without its controversies, and Katz’s public appearance provided area residents a welcome opportunity to engage in a discussion about the intersection of the company, the town and how the two will be indelibly linked into the future. It’s easy to pick allegiances forged by personal biases—see the dueling opinion pieces from Outside Magazine vacillating on whether corporate ski resort consolidation is saving or killing skiing and mountain communities—and the evening’s forum would provide fodder for either side.
After Leadership Park City director Myles Rademan mildly implored the assembled crowd to “avoid diatribes” and be “gentle” with their questions, Katz emerged to deliver his prepared speech. The 40-minute presentation consisted largely of harmless but perhaps uninspired lessons on leadership—like empowering everyone within an organization to be a leader and the difference between being a leader and a friend—along with a few anecdotes about Katz’s path to becoming CEO of Vail Resorts that may not have landed with the degree of relatability he had hoped. Nevertheless, the remarks highlighted some of the benefits and drawbacks Vail Resorts has brought Park City.
Virtues Katz highlighted include Vail’s career-oriented employment aimed at internal promotion—a rarity among seasonal workforces—lower season pass prices and the organization’s history of charitable giving and environmental advocacy. Shortcomings Katz discussed included the admission everything Vail Resorts does—regardless of how it will be perceived—must be good for business, so community needs are going to be overlooked from time to time.
This was reinforced during the Q&A when he repeatedly declined to engage on local-centric topics like the elimination of night skiing and the mountain host program by saying those decisions are made at the local level, though each resort is likely dictated to adhere to a bottom line set at the company’s highest level. Katz deserves credit for acknowledging the need to address interrelated issues of high-housing costs, sub-adequate wages—though Vail Resorts did recently raise the minimum wage for entry-level jobs—and the inability to operate Park City Mountain at full staffing levels, though he offered no viable solutions beyond being more prepared to secure additional affordable housing for staff in the wake of the next recession. Still, fair play to Katz for willingly taking questions from an opinionated crowd.
Most people’s takeaway from the evening will likely informed by the opinions they came with: either Vail Resorts and their CEO are out of touch with local needs and are in the industry solely for their financial gain, or the company is merely breaking a few eggs to democratize skiing while running a profitable business for their shareholders. Parkites are wrapping up one of the snowiest winters in recent memory, but they remain conflicted about the town’s future and the corporation to which it is tied. Meanwhile on the Vail Resorts website, season passes for next year are already on sale.
See all our outdoors coverage here.